Say your team is up by 12 points with less than 6 minutes to go in the 4th quarter, against a long time rival, with playoff hopes on the line, in front of a home crowd. The game is all but over; the fans breathe normally, the team celebrate humbly, the coaches congratulate quietly, but then……
With 5:41 on the clock, the opposing quarterback barks out the play at the 20. He passes, incomplete. 2nd & 10, he passes again, complete, 1st down. 1st & 10, he passes again, gain of 9. 2nd & 1, he hands off to the running back, no gain. 3rd & 1, he drops back to pass, running backwards, blitz coming, and yes, pass complete, 1st down! 1st & 10, he hands off to the running back, no gain! Nice stop! Oh, but wait, defense jumps the gun, flag down, offsides. Home team pacing the sidelines. 1st & 5, he drops back to pass, again, pressure coming, running for his life, and yes, another completion. 1st and goal at the 8, yes, you read correctly, the 8. Long story, short. The opponent scored a touchdown, converted the extra point, score 29 – 34, 2:27 time elapsed.
Home team gets the ball back at the 20. The clock reads 3:14. Nothing at all to worry about. You are at home, playing in front of 95,000 rabid fans. This is your house! Run out the clock with a few first downs and call it a day. 1st & 10, running back gets the handoff, 5 yards. Milk the clock! 2nd & 5, running back takes the ball, stopped! Not going anywhere. 3rd & 5, quarterback steps back in the pocket, man open down field, throws the ball, too deep, 4th down. Punt team takes the field, score 29 – 34, 0:54 time elapsed.
Visitors take over at their 40 yard line. Clock indicates 2:12 remaining in the game. Crowd getting anxious. Visiting quarterback, under pressure, slings the pigskin, caught, good for a first down and ten, at the home team 37 yard line. This cannot be happening! 1st & 10, 2 minute warning, snap flung over the enemy’s head, scrambling to contain the ball, opposing team maintains possession but way back from where they began. Oh boy, flag down, no, not the same player from earlier who jumped offsides. Yes, same guy, same penalty. 1st & 5, he passes, the ball is caught, another first down. 1st & 10, he aims for the endzone, receiver cannot make the catch. 2nd & 10, he screams out the play, low snap, scrambles, throws up a prayer, ball falls to the ground, play is dead. No, it’s not, flag down, and want to guess who it’s against, absolutely the home team, defensive holding, automatic first down. To end the insanity of this diabolical display of football by the home team, the guests score six more, then two more. Time on the clock reads 0.46 seconds, score 37 – 34, 1:26 time elapsed.
At this point, it is going to take a miracle of miracles to even tie up the game, much less go for the out right win. This is what separates the men from the boys. This is where the rubber meets the road, the tough get going, and so on. Home team starts at the 20, first pass down the field complete, crowd goes wild. 1st & 10 at the 42. Quarterback spikes the ball. 2nd & 10, he passes, ball is caught. 3rd & 4 at the 48. Passer launches the football down field, caught, 1st down! He spikes the ball, stops the clock with 6 seconds. The best rookie kicker in the league runs onto the field, gets set, kicks it straight through the uprights. Cowboys tie it up! Wrong! Timeout is called, but this time it is by the opponent. This is a more acceptable form of icing the kicker than by one’s own coach. Kicker kicks the ball, the line fails to block, defense powers through, jumps over the entire line, hands flying like an octopus, tips the ball, ball never makes it to its intended destination. Game over.
So, who is better in a crunch? On this night, Eli Manning was better. Tony Romo put the Cowboys into position to tie the game, but he did not go for the kill. A number of factors combined for the loss; namely, mismanagement of the time situation, again, costly penalties, with repeat offenders, a defense that looks like a fine piece of swiss cheese, and an offensive line that cannot protect their kicker.
Maybe one day, Romo will be added to this list of all time clutch quarterbacks: Terry Bradshaw, Troy Aikman, Dan Marino, Joe Namath, Tom Brady, John Elway, Joe Montana…..just to name a few. They all came through when they needed a win. And for now, we add Eli Manning to the list.
In the brilliant words of Terence Newman as he described the final two drives for the Cowboys’ defense Sunday night:
“He threw it. They caught it. End of story.”